Staunton, July 4 – Several hundred Belarusians staged an independent protest in Minsk against plans for a joint Belarusian-Russian military exercise later this year (Zapad-2017) that Moscow has acknowledged is a response to the NATO build-up in eastern Europe but that Belarusians fear may be used by Moscow to increase Russian control of Belarus.
The demonstration took place on the sidelines of the official celebrations of what Alyaksandr Lukashenka insists is the country’s independence day, the anniversary of the Soviet expulsion of German forces from Minsk in 1944. Belarusian opposition groups mark the anniversary of the proclamation of the Belarusian People’s Republic on March 25.
Opposition leader Nikolay Statkevich told the marchers that “we know perfectly well who runs Russia and what they allow themselves to do and we very well remember how Russian peacekeepers began the war with Georgia and how it was with the Black Sea fleet when Russia with its help seized Crimea.”
(On the Minsk meeting, see among other reports belsat.eu/ru/programs/v-den-nezavisimosti-v-minske-proshla-aktsiya-protiv-vnutrennej-okkupatsii-strany-polnyj-vypusk/, charter97.org/ru/news/2017/7/3/255094/,graniru.org/Politics/World/Europe/Belarus/m.262269.html
The first, which came soon after the Andizhan tragedy, played a key role in warming relations between Tashkent and Moscow. Western countries were critical of Islam Karimov’s actions in that city and imposed sanctions. Moscow wasn’t, and Tashkent responded by increasing its involvement with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Russian officials expressed the hope that such joint exercises would become regular even annual events, but there hasn’t been on in the intervening decade. Now, with a new Uzbek leader in place, Moscow appears trying to take advantage of that, perhaps hopeful it can get Tashkent to rejoin the Organization for the Collective Security Treaty, that Uzbekistan left in 2012.